KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 4 – A viral TikTok video posted earlier today criticised the cost of hotel quarantine for returning Umrah pilgrims of up to RM2,680 for eight days.
The one-and-a-half minute video showed a group of infuriated Muslim pilgrims at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), who demanded an explanation on why they are given a single hotel quarantine option instead of cheaper alternatives.
“Why must we use their hotels? Cronies? Plus we have to pay for transport to hotels,” said the video posted by a man named Nik Mohd Fakrul Hisyam with the username djalonghisyam.
The video ended with the pilgrims calling for home quarantine and for Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to take responsibility.
The video claimed that the cost of quarantining at the hotel can range between RM250 and RM335 per day for eight days for the batch of 280 Umrah pilgrims who returned to Malaysia from Saudi Arabia yesterday. It also stated that the pilgrims had undergone 12 days of quarantine in the city of Medina, Saudi Arabia, costing RM3,500 prior to their return.
Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim responded to the video by describing the quarantine cost as high, urging the government and the minister in charge to address the issue immediately.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on New Year’s Day announced that Umrah pilgrims who return to Malaysia from January 3 will be required to self-isolate for seven days at a designated quarantine facility or at a hotel.
The new policy was announced after health authorities found that many Umrah pilgrims who tested positive for the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant broke home quarantine guidelines by interacting with their family members and even receiving visitors.
Khairy also announced that returning Umrah pilgrims must also get tested with RT-PCR two days before departure and on arrival, self-test with antigen rapid tests if symptomatic during quarantine, and get tested with RT-PCR on Day Five of quarantine. Umrah pilgrims will only be released from quarantine on Day Eight if there is no extension of quarantine and if the RT-PCR test on Day Five is negative.
He said that six Omicron clusters, with index cases in Umrah pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, have been reported across the country in Selangor, Kedah, Penang, Johor, Pahang, and Sabah as of December 30.
One cluster with 10 Covid-19 cases so far spanned three states: Gombak district in Selangor, Yan and Kota Setar districts in Kedah, and Barat Daya district in Penang.
Khairy said many pilgrims who returned from Umrah applied to quarantine at home or their residence during the seven-day quarantine period. But non-compliance to standard operating procedures (SOPs) led to positive Covid-19 cases among Umrah pilgrims spreading infection among family members.
Of the 64 confirmed Omicron cases in Malaysia reported as of December 31, 2021, half, or 32 cases, were in Umrah pilgrims. Besides the six Omicron clusters involving Umrah pilgrims reported, three more clusters were detected in Umrah pilgrims, whose index cases were not of the Omicron variant and are likely Delta.
Due to the high rate of Omicron reported in Umrah pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia, the government has decided to suspend approvals for Umrah travel from January 8. Flight bookings for Umrah travel are suspended effective immediately from today.
For Umrah pilgrims who are scheduled to travel to Saudi Arabia from today until January 7, they are allowed to continue their journey but must quarantine at a designated station upon their return to Malaysia.